HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Main » General Discussion (Forum) » The Planetary Emergency

Wed Jan 16, 2013, 05:21 PM


The Planetary Emergency

Capitalism today is caught in a seemingly endless crisis, with economic stagnation and upheaval circling the globe. But while the world has been fixated on the economic problem, global environmental conditions have been rapidly worsening...The common source of both of these crises resides in the process of capital accumulation...

Many thought that the Great Financial Crisis would result in a sharp curtailment of carbon emissions... Carbon emissions dipped by 1.4 percent in 2009, but this brief decline was more than offset by a record 5.9 percent growth of carbon emissions in 2010, even as the world economy as a whole continued to stagnate...The notion that a stagnant-prone capitalist growth economy...would be even more intensively destructive of the environment was a thesis advanced as early as 1976 by the pioneering Marxist environmental sociologist Charles H. Anderson. As Anderson put it, “as the threat of stagnation mounts, so does the need for throughput in order to maintain tolerable growth rates.”

Faced with such intractable problems, the response of the dominant interests has always been that technology, supplemented by market magic and population control, can solve all problems, allowing for unending capital accumulation and economic growth without undue ecological effects...Technological change under the present system routinely brings about relative efficiency gains in energy use, reducing the energy and raw material input per unit of output. Yet, this seldom results in absolute decreases in environmental throughput at the aggregate level; rather the tendency is toward the ever-greater use of energy and materials.

Marx captured the expansive nature and logic of capitalism as a system in what he called “the general formula of capital,” or M-C-M′... with money (M) being exchanged for labor and material... to produce a new commodity (C), to be exchanged for more money (M ') which realizes the original value plus...surplus value or profit (M + Δ m). Here the process does not logically end with the receipt of M′. Rather the profit is reinvested so that it leads in the next phase to M-C-M′′, and then to M-C-M′′′, in an unending sequence....This ceaseless drive for the amassing of greater and greater wealth, requiring more and more consumption of energy and resources, and generating more waste, constitutes “the absolute general law of environmental degradation under capitalism...”Nevertheless, where capitalism is concerned, expansion is a requirement for the existence of the system itself...

Monopoly capitalism demands an ever-faster circulation of commodities in order to increase sales. Durability is the enemy of the system. Maximum profits are thus generated by a throwaway culture... The economic life of cell phones in the Untied States is only a couple of years due to both planned and psychological obsolescence... “For all its stinginess,” Marx wrote, “capitalist production is thoroughly wasteful with human material, just as…(it is) very wasteful of material resources, so that it loses for society what it gains for the individual capitalist...” Recognizing these material constraints, and the fact that production was ultimately nothing but the relation between human beings and nature, Marx defined socialism as a society in which “socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way…accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature.”

The really inconvenient truth is that there is no possible way to accomplish any, much less all, of these things other than by breaking with the underlying logic of the accumulation of capital, M-C-M′—and today’s even deadlier M-CK-M′.


2 replies, 434 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 2 replies Author Time Post
Reply The Planetary Emergency (Original post)
HiPointDem Jan 2013 OP
NoOneMan Jan 2013 #1
HiPointDem Jan 2013 #2

Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Wed Jan 16, 2013, 05:55 PM

1. "so does the need for throughput in order to maintain tolerable growth rates"


This is a very interesting point. I've often thought of the recession as the most successful emission limiting event we've had, by objective measurements, but there are obviously consequences in a return obsessed society.

Reading this article makes me think that the current trendy blend of European Democratic Socialism is drastically departed from some of the original concerns of Marxism. This flavor of socialism doesn't seem to want to change the underlying fabric of production in regards to nature, but rather change how the profits are distributed and empower workers. As this article points out, if Marxism had a chance to "govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way", we would probably never reach the point where people are buying new useless iPhones every 18 months. To implement this type of system would probably require a mass abandonment of the infrastructure we need to maintain our current lifestyles, as well as a complete reorganization of the economy away from producing profitable techno-toys. Frankly with what we know today, I question how much production a complex, organize society can reasonable engage in without causing ecological breakdown.

Should be cross-posted in E&E

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to NoOneMan (Reply #1)

Thu Jan 17, 2013, 01:54 AM

2. +1


Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread